(this is Screen Comment’s second review of “Nebraska“) American indie cinema also has its giants. Just like his compadres Wes Anderson and Jason Reitman Alexander Payne has, after directing only a few movies, spearheaded this other cinema in which America, and its history, fill the whole screen. As it were, in “Nebraska” America is hiding in plain sight. Not the one where superheroes save humanity but indeed the one that we’ve come to forget about over time.
In penetrating black and white imagery Payne shoots simply and with great accuracy the bittersweet tribulations of a father and his son deciding to, and then going on, a roadtrip. Payne, somewhat torn between being funny and serious (he’s said in interviews that comedy is his primary influence in how to approach story), surprises us where we least expect him to and places himself entirely in service of story. The elegance of the script, a sparseness which literally jumps at us from the screen, is a treat (this is the first film for which Payne did not also author the screenplay–he did do a rewrite in this case, however).
Bruce Dern is extraordinary in the role of a father in the winter of his life who’s convinced he won big at lottery and who’s suffering from early-stage senile dementia (or Alzheimer’s, but can one ever tell the difference?). The rest of the cast isn’t disappointing, either, including June Squibb as the wife and mother, who’s slightly koo-koo herself, but that’s her personality. And let’s not forget Bob Odenkirk, who plays the brother, Ross Grant (you may remember him from that barely-noticed series “Breaking Bad,” in which he plays the wonderfully odious ambulance-chaser).
At the fore of the screen lies the American landscape in its grandeur, from wide expanses where epicness is underplayed to towns eroded by time and the change of epoch: Payne delivers a beautiful immersion into the lands of Uncle Sam. Across this geographic and temporal journey, he succeeds in providing a very compelling variation on the father-son relationship while indulging himself in directing his best film to date. It’s cinema like this that we want more of.
Screen Comment’s Ali Naderzad will be in Cannes during May 14-25 to cover the world’s best film festival. Lock #SCannes2014 on Twitter to follow his updates.